Do All Your Employees Meet All Or Most Of Your Work Standards Most Of The Time?

Running a business successfully is all about money. This week we heard that Bob Diamond has been appointed to run Barclays Bank as Chief Executive (I loved that quote about running the bank as a casino) and now the Chancellor, George Osbourne, has decided to cut the annual welfare bill by a further £4billion. This is apparently aimed at those whose "lifestyle choice” is to sit on out-of-work benefits.

I don’t suppose many people disagree with the sentiment, but with the job cuts already proposed and consequent numbers of redundancies in the pipeline, I can’t quite see how this is going to work … For employers, managing work performance efficiently is absolutely critical. In the early days of running my HR consultancy I would tend to ask managers how things were going.

It was the wrong question, because unless they were suffering excruciating employee-induced pain, they would tolerate under-performance for a long time and say that things were OK, rather than address them. So I now ask, “do all your employees meet all or most of your work standards most of the time?” If the answer is “No” (and it usually is), it tells me that we have some work to do. Poor work performance is a far more common complaint than misconduct. An ability to identify and tackle poor work performance in an effective and timely fashion is an essential management skill. The essence of being a manager is getting work done effectively through your team.

Many managers fear confrontation. These days it is quite common for a manager who is giving guidance and correction for poor work performance to become the subject of a grievance; but putting off dealing with employees who are not delivering to the standard you require is the worst thing to do! In the short term it might be easier to ‘work round’ a poor performer, but quite quickly other employees get fed up with carrying a colleague and grumble about covering for him.

The employee might leave, you could end up doing the work yourself, or it may be that the work just doesn’t get done. Unfortunately, the problem doesn’t usually go away by itself. Andrew, an employee who had been with his company for some time, was unable to properly carry out his duties and was causing serious production problems. The employer, David, wanted to sack Andrew. In expressing his frustration, David said, “He’s always been like this; slow to learn and loses the skills he does manage to gain quickly.” I asked how long Andrew had been working there, expecting David to say something like, “About six months.” I was amazed when the reply was, “15 years – and he’s always been ******! useless …” Where you have a poor work performance issue, try to identify the cause of the problem.

Managers can be tempted to assume that performance problems arise because of an employee's carelessness or lack of effort; some employees will be guilty of this, but it’s not automatically the case. The cause of the poor work performance should emerge when carrying out an investigation. The key components of managing performance successfully are:

  • setting and communicating standards;
  • regular feedback;
  • correction where needed.

Take appropriate action as soon as you notice that the employee is not performing work to the required standard. Delaying, or worse, doing nothing, may well cause the performance problem to become exacerbated. After you’ve had a discussion with the employee, the next stage is to create a performance improvement plan (PIP). Agree and set down precise performance targets which are capable of being measured, as listed below:

  • Agree a process to keep both of you informed of progress and diarise follow-ups.
  • If the employee needs any training, specify that in the PIP.
  • Build in a date for an interim performance evaluation to assess the employee’s progress.
  • Include the employee’s suggestions in the PIP.
  • List the positive outcomes of successfully completing the performance improvement plan along with the negative consequences of failing to meet performance criteria.
  • Ask the employee to date and sign the PIP, acknowledging that he has read and understands its requirements.
  • Note that the process of encouraging the employee to improve his performance starts at the informal stage. If it becomes necessary to escalate to the formal process, the PIP will continue to run in parallel with any formal sanctions.
  • Review at weekly intervals, so you keep track of progress. If the situation picks up and the employee starts to perform better, this will be encouraging for both of you. Give accurate and targeted feedback. Try to focus on the positive as this will increase motivation and performance.
  • Give enough time for the employee to improve; this should be at least one - three months, but it does depend on the circumstances. If in doubt give more time rather than less.

If the employee’s performance does not improve after the informal approach you can move to the formal process. The efforts to guide your employee to a raised standard of performance would continue in parallel with any formal sanctions.

Russell HR Consulting provides expert knowledge in HR solutions, employment law training and HR tools and resources to businesses across the UK.

Subscribe to our free monthly HR newsletter. Russell HR Consulting employment law newsletters are emailed automatically to our ever-growing number of subscribers every month.